Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Freedom-of-Assembly Demonstration Dispersed in Moscow

On 31 December 2013 the Moscow police dispersed an opposition demonstration meeting on Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the "right to assemble peacefully without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets." About 30 activists, including their leader, well-known writer Eduard Limonov, were arrested. The activists hold similar meetings on the 31st day of each month having 31 days. The demonstrations are invariably banned and dispersed by the police. On the same day another anti-Putin demonstration was dispersed near the Kremlin, with 10 activists arrested.

http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/activism/strategy31/m.223062.html (photo)
http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/grani_ru/1229612-echo/ (photo)
http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/activism/strategy31/m.223062.html (video)

Terror Attacks Hit Russian City of Volgograd

The death toll from two suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd climbed to 34 after two of the over 100 injured victims died, officials said. The two separate explosions ripped through Volgograd’s train station and the next day on a trolleybus. The attacks followed another attack two months ago and came weeks before Russia is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in February in the city of Sochi. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the two latest explosions.

http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1228672-echo/ (video)
http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1228886-echo/ (video)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Khodorkovsky Vows to Help Russian Political Prisoners

Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said he will do all he can to free other political prisoners. At a Berlin news conference, he said he would stay out of politics and that "the struggle for power is not for me". He said he only found out he was going to Berlin the day he was freed, adding that he would only go back to Russia if he was sure he could leave again. He said there was a need "to make sure that in Russia and in any other countries in the world there won't be political prisoners". "I will do everything I can so that there are none left," he added. Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released on Friday, after 10 years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.


Pussy Riot Members Released

The two imprisoned members of the punk group Pussy Riot walked free Monday under a presidential amnesty. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were freed after serving nearly 21 months of a two-year sentence for hooliganism. They were jailed for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Christ the Savior cathedral in protest at Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. Tolokonnikova, 25, shouted “Russia without Putin” as she left the prison hospital in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, where she had been receiving medical treatment after staging a hunger strike at her previous jail over conditions for inmates. Alyokhina was released earlier in the day from her penal colony in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region. She criticized the presidential amnesty as a “profanation” that only applied to a small minority of convicts.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Khodorkovsky Released

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Friday pardoning former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of Russia’s most famous prisoners. The Kremlin said that the pardon for Khodorkovsky had been granted on humanitarian grounds, and would come into force straightaway. Khodorkovsky's lawyers, who appeared to be stunned by the news of the decision when it was announced by Putin on Thursday, confirmed that their client could walk free Friday. "Such a decree should be carried out immediately," said lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant. Russian prison authorities said in a statement that the decree meant Khodorkovsky was free from further prison punishment. A prison service spokesman said that Khodorkovsky could leave incarceration as early as Friday. Later Klyuvgant said that according to the prison authorities Khodorkovsky has already left the prison.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Putin Says He Will Pardon Khodorkovsky

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he will in the nearest future pardon jailed former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin said Khodorkovsky appealed for clemency in a letter. “[Khodorkovsky] cites humanitarian reasons,” Putin told reporters after the end of his marathon four-hour press conference in Moscow. “A far as Khodorkovsky is concerned, I have already spoken about this, Mikhail Borisovich should in line with the law have written the necessary document, which he didn’t do, but just recently he wrote this document and addressed me with an appeal for clemency,” he said. Putin said Khodorkovsky had already spent 10 years in jail for a serious crime and that citing humanitarian concerns, notably his sick mother, he would take the decision on the pardon in the nearest time. “The order for the pardon will issued and the person will be freed,” he said. Khodorkovsky's legal team appeared confused by what has come as a fully unexpected development. "He never filed [an appeal for pardon], and we haven't had any recent information about anyone appealing on his behalf. We don't have this information, although we've received a number of pardon appeals on his behalf of other people over the years," said Vadim Klyuvgant, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were jailed in 2005 and saw their sentences extended until August 2014 and May 2014, respectively, following a second trial on related charges in 2010.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1221357-echo/ (video)

EU Concerned by Upsurge in Russians Seeking Asylum

The European Union is concerned by an upsurge in the number of Russians applying for asylum in Europe, the bloc’s envoy to Russia said Wednesday. “Their number has almost quadrupled in the second quarter of 2013 as compared with the same period last year,” EU Ambassador to Russia Vygaudas Usackas said. He said that more than 23,000 Russians requested asylum in Europe last year, becoming the third largest group of asylum seekers after residents of Afghanistan and Syria.


Medvedev Proposes Turning Sochi into Gambling

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has proposed turning Sochi, the venue for the Winter Olympics next year, into a gambling zone, according to a newspaper report Thursday. Medvedev made the suggestion at a meeting earlier this week as the government seeks ways to offset the losses expected to be made by investors who have put large amounts of money into the development of Sochi ahead of the Olympics, Kommersant newspaper reported. With a price tag of over $50 billion, the Sochi games are the most expensive Olympics of all time. Businessmen and state-owned companies have reportedly sought state assistance to pay back loans taken out to pay for projects they are backing in Sochi. The Kremlin banned gambling in Russia in 2009, except for four designated zones across the country. These zones include the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the country’s Far East, the southern Krasnodar Territory and Siberia’s Altai region. A committee to look at Medvedev’s proposal to add Sochi to this list of gambling zones has been set up under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, Kommersant reported.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Azerbaijan's Arrest of Vote Monitor Draws Outcry

The arrest of an independent election monitor in the oil-rich authoritarian former Soviet state of Azerbaijan drew vocal international condemnation Tuesday. A court in the capital, Baku, on Monday ordered that Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center chairman Anar Mammadli be detained for three months as investigations are carried out into claims he was engaged in illegal entrepreneurship. The center, which has for years faced routine harassment from the authorities, conducted extensive monitoring of widely criticized October elections that secured a third term in power for iron-fisted President Ilham Aliyev. The US Embassy in Azerbaijan said it was deeply troubled by Mammadli’s arrest and that it was compelled to question whether the “detention is related to his organization's election monitoring and reporting activities.”


Russia Gives Ukraine Cheap Gas, Multibillion Dollar Loan

Russia on Tuesday sharply lowered natural gas prices for Ukraine and provided its economically struggling neighbor with a multibillion loan package in a move that Ukraine’s government may hope will spell an end to ongoing street protests. President Vladimir Putin announced at a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in Moscow that Russia will sell gas to Ukraine’s Naftogaz energy company for $268.5 per 1,000 cubic meters, well below the current level of more than $400. Putin said, however, the price may only be lowered temporarily. “We believe this is a temporary decision, by which it is mean that long-term agreements should and will be signed. This concerns both supplies to Ukraine and securing uninterrupted transit to our consumers in Europe,” Putin said after the meeting. Russia will also dip into its national wealth fund to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian eurobonds, Putin said. That will provide desperately needed liquidity for Ukraine, which is currently facing a looming balance of payments crisis.


Obama to Skip Sochi Games in Apparent Snub Over Anti-Gay Law

US President Barack Obama dealt a sharp reprimand to Russia over its anti-gay laws on Tuesday by including two openly homosexual athletes in the official delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and declining to attend the Games himself. The White House announced that Billie Jean King, a gay former tennis champion, and Caitlin Cahow, a gay Olympic medalist in ice hockey, would be included in the US delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in February. For the first time since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, the US president, vice president and first lady are to be absent from both delegations. White House officials said in a statement that Obama would be too busy to attend the Games, but that the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States.”


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Georgia Doubles Wine Exports as Russian Market Reopens

Russia bought almost half of all wine exported by Georgia in 2013, just months after a longtime ban was lifted, Georgia’s agriculture ministry said Monday. Georgia sold 21.8 million bottles to Russia after Moscow ended an embargo in June that had been imposed in 2006. The level of demand has prompted the Caucasus nation to double its forecast for Russian wine sales in 2014 from 12-15 million bottles to more than 30 million, Georgy Seturidze, head of the Georgian-Russian Economic Cooperation Center, told Prime news agency. The reopening of the Russian market helped Georgia to double wine exports this year to 44.7 million bottles, the ministry’s annual report showed. It sold wine to 48 countries worldwide in 2013. Russia banned imports of Georgian wines, mineral water and agricultural products in 2006, citing low quality of such goods. The measure, which Georgia described as politically motivated, was imposed as relations soured between the Kremlin and Georgia’s pro-Western leader Mikheil Saakashvili. Talks about lifting the ban began shortly after the opposition Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili won parliamentary elections last year. The Georgian Dream’s candidate, Georgy Margvelashvili, won October’s presidential election to succeed Saakasvhili. In March, Russia’s consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, cleared 36 Georgian winemakers and four mineral water producers to resume deliveries to Russia. Exports of Georgian wine and other agricultural goods to Russia resumed in June.


Russia Denies Blackmailing Ukraine Over EU Deal

Russia has never threatened Ukraine with sanctions over a cooperation agreement with the European Union, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. But Moscow did warn Kiev in advance that Ukraine could lose its favorable status in trade relations with Russia, Lavrov said. “We have not blackmailed anyone,” the minister told Rossiya 24 television after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels. “We are not talking about sanctions, we are simply saying that we would return to normal trade relations with Ukraine or any other country that would choose this way [association with EU].” Lavrov said that the sides agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty should be respected and that people should have a free choice as to how they want their state to develop.


US Hands Armenian Gang Member 8-Year Prison Term

An alleged Armenian gang leader has been sentenced to eight years in prison in California after pleading guilty to involvement in a $2 million bank card scam, as well as drug and weapons charges. Karo Yerkanyan, described by US prosecutors as a leader of the “Armenian Power” gang in California, was sentenced to five years of supervised release last week in addition to the eight-year prison term on charges related to racketeering, bank fraud, identity theft, marijuana trafficking and illegal firearms possession, according to federal court documents. Yerkanyan, who is also known by the nickname “Guilty,” pleaded guilty in a federal court to involvement in a scam that used illegally obtained information from victims’ bank cards to open fraudulent bank accounts, loans and credit lines at HSBC Bank and Bank of America, US prosecutors said in September. The information was stolen using so-called “skimming” devices to steal customers’ bank information at cash registers, causing more than $2 million in damages, prosecutors said.


McDonald’s Appeals Fine for Hiring Illegal Migrant in Russia

Fast food giant McDonald’s has lodged an appeal with Russia’s highest commercial court against a fine imposed for employing an illegal immigrant. The company was fined 300,000 rubles ($9,100) by the Federal Migration Service after one of its restaurants hired a woman from Kyrgyzstan who did not have a work permit. The American-owned chain is taking its case to Russia’s Supreme Court of Arbitration after an initial appeal was rejected by the Moscow arbitration court in April. The Moscow court rejected McDonald’s defense that the woman had claimed in documents to be a Russian citizen, saying that the material had been added to company files after she was detained. Two lower courts had already upheld the judgment against the company. Anti-migrant sentiment has increased in Russia in the past 10 years in reaction to a huge influx of migrant workers from the North Caucasus and Central Asia. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin promised repeatedly to take a tough stance on immigration to the capital during his recent successful election campaign.


Russian Governor Beaten and Robbed in French Home

The governor of a Russian region has been assaulted and robbed of $275,000 worth of jewellery whilst in his house in the south of France, his spokeswoman said Tuesday. Lev Kuznetsov, the governor of Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia, was shot with an air gun by intruders and his wife was hit with a baton during the attack on Saturday, according to his spokeswoman Stella Alekseeva. The house where the incident took place is in Antibes on France's south coast, and is reportedly owned by Kuznetsov, who has held the post of Krasnoyarsk governor since 2010. “The governor was on a short break when this unpleasant incident occurred,” said Alekseeva, adding that Kuznetsov was feeling better and had already resumed his official duties.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kremlin's New Anti-Corruption Chief Accused of Plagiarizing Thesis

A grassroots anti-plagiarism group said Tuesday that the head of the Kremlin’s newly created anti-corruption department ripped off a significant portion of his doctoral thesis. Oleg Plokhoi – whose name, incidentally, means “bad” in Russian – defended his dissertation at the Federal Prison Service’s in-house judicial academy in 2006. But Dissernet.org claimed that about 62 of 152 pages in the thesis on staffing principles of Russian law enforcements had been borrowed from other books without proper attribution. Plokhoi, 45, who was appointed to his job last week by President Vladimir Putin, had not commented on the group’s allegations as of this article’s publication. He served in the KGB and its successor, the FSB, prior to joining the Kremlin administration in 1999. Dissernet.org was formed in 2011 and bases its studies on digital text analysis services. It has identified what it says is theft of written work by numerous high-ranking officials, including Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin and several federal legislators. Most have denied allegations of plagiarism.

http://navalny.livejournal.com/889132.html (Oleg Plokhoi, photo)

Putin Shuts Down RIA Novosti News Agency

In a surprise decree published on the Kremlin’s website on Monday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin “liquidated” the RIA Novosti news agency and created a new organization called Rossia Segodnya , or Russia Today — in what many commentators see as a decision to eliminate one of the most balanced news outlets in the Kremlin’s sprawling portfolio of news agencies, newspapers and television stations. “The main focus of the International News Agency Russia Today is to inform abroad about the State Policy of the Russian Federation and public life in the Russian Federation,” the decree said. In contrast to state-owned Federal television channels, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and have a reputation for screening hatchet jobs on opposition figures, RIA Novosti appeared to have a licence to operate relatively freely, reporting controversial stories including the 2012 anti-Putin protests in Moscow, and more recently the pro-Europe protests in Ukraine, with little if any bias. In particular, RIA's website was a major source of news for this blog.


Ukrainian Police Launch Assault on Kiev Barricades

Elite riot police and Interior Ministry forces clashed with opposition supporters in the Ukrainian capital Kiev early Wednesday, dismantling barricades that protesters put up in the streets to disrupt access to government buildings. Most barricades were removed from the downtown Independence Square, but a crowd estimated by opposition leaders at some 25,000 resisted attempts to disperse them. At least 10 Interior Ministry troops were injured in the clashes, the ministry said. Media reported several injured among the protesters, who managed to retake the square after losing ground in the initial police assault. US Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton denounced the overnight crackdown.


Monday, December 9, 2013

As Ukraine Opposition Rallies Intensify, Lenin Statue Falls

Several hundred thousand people gathered in the Ukrainian capital Sunday for one of the largest protest rallies in the former Soviet nation’s history, throwing down the gauntlet to a government that has resisted calls for negotiation with the opposition. In an incident that may spark criminal investigations and cast a shadow over the generally pacific events, however, a group of nationalists ripped down a statue of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. The mass assembly in Kiev was the biggest to date since the government last month pulled out of preparations to sign landmark political and trade deals with the EU, sparking widespread indignation across Ukraine. In an indication that the standoff has provoked international concern, the European Commission announced Sunday that EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Kiev next week to assist in seeking a way out of the political impasse. Authorities have so far displayed little desire to compromise with the opposition, and have instead limited themselves to issuing ominous warnings that demonstrations could tip over into unrest.


Friday, December 6, 2013

US Charges Russian Diplomats in $1.5M Health Care Fraud Case

Dozens of current or former Russian diplomats and their spouses stationed in New York City have been charged in the alleged defrauding of $1.5 million from a government health care program aimed at helping the poor, US federal prosecutors said Thursday. The 49 defendants are accused of involvement in the “systematic” fraudulent submission of falsified applications for benefits under the US health care program Medicaid, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday. During the period of the purported fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013, the defendants falsely underreported their income or fraudulently claimed that their children were US citizens to obtain Medicaid benefits associated with costs for pregnancy, birth and young children, US prosecutors allege. During the same period the defendants spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on luxury vacations and expensive watches, clothes, shoes and jewelry at luxury retailers like Swarovski, Prada and Tiffany & Co., the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said in the statement.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Duma Deputies Fistfight, Golden Gun Reported

A disagreement about a statue in a State Duma deputy's native republic of Chechnya led to two lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party getting involved in a fistfight that ended when a golden gun reportedly fell from Chechen lawmaker Adam Delimkhanov's pocket. The scuffle kicked off Tuesday near an elevator in the Duma building, where Delimkhanov approached fellow deputy Alexei Zhuravlyov and started “making claims” about his criticism of the opening of a monument to Chechen women that resisted Russian troops during the region's conquest in the 19th century, Zhuravlyov's spokeswoman Sofya Cherepanova said. According to Cherepanova, many witnesses saw that Delimkhanov began the fight with a punch to Zhuravlyov's face and also threatened to kill the fellow United Russia member. After the fight, an ambulance arrived at the Duma to provide the lawmakers with first aid. Zhuravlyov was left with bruises on his nasal bridge and eyebrow, the deputy's spokeswoman Cherepanova said, adding that a friend of the lawmaker who had come to visit him in the Duma and tried to stop the fight had to be hospitalized and was missing two of his front teeth. The two lawmakers had made peace by late Wednesday, however. They announced the reconciliation after talking to Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin and United Russia's Duma faction leader Vladimir Vasilyev. Though the deputies claim to have moved beyond their fight, observers remained worried about whether and how Delimkhanov brought a gun through metal detectors in the Duma. Delimkhanov is suspected of masterminding the 2009 murder of Chechen military commander Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai, where the attackers discarded a gold-plated handgun. The United Russia deputy had been on an international wanted list at the request of the United Arab Emirates, before Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov visited the UAE and local investigators dropped the charges against Delimkhanov without explanation in July 2012.


http://kp.ua/daily/070409/175913/ (golden gun; 2009 Dubai police photo)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Navalny Disbarred

Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who originally became well-known as a minority shareholder lawyer and anti-corruption activist, was stripped of his advocate status in the wake of his conviction in a controversial Kirovles case. Navalny commented that the Moscow Bar had no other option under the current legislation but to disbar him. Navalny was sentenced to a suspended 5 year jail term in the Kirovles case that he calls politically motivated. Currently Navalny is being investigated on similar charges in the equally controversial Ives Rocher case.


Ukraine's Ruling Party Calls Supporters Onto the Streets

Ukraine’s ruling party has called for its supporters to come out onto the streets in defense of government buildings as the political stand-off in the former Soviet nation continued Wednesday. President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions said in a statement released late Tuesday that it was mobilizing its backers to ensure the continued work of the government. “Kiev is not the capital of the opposition, it is the capital of our whole country,” the party said. The statement appears to signal unwillingness by the government to compromise with an increasingly emboldened protest movement that was sparked last month by the Cabinet’s decision to back away from a landmark trade and political pact with the European Union.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bolshoi Star Sentenced to 6 Years in Jail for Acid Attack

A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced a star ballet dancer at the Bolshoi Theater to six years in jail for organizing an acid attack on his troupe’s artistic director, bringing a highly charged trial to a close. The judge at Meshchansky Court ruled that Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko and two co-defendants were guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, RIA Novosti’s RAPSI legal news service reported. Sergei Filin sustained third-degree burns to his face and eyes in the attack in January. The judge said in her verdict that Dmitrichenko had organized the attack because he was disgruntled at the way Filin was acquitting his duties. Dmitrichenko has claimed he only wanted to have Filin beaten up, but the judge dismissed the testimony as an attempt to avoid criminal responsibility.


Putin Condemns Ukraine Protests as 'Pogroms'

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that events unfolding in Ukraine should not be described as a revolution, but were rather more reminiscent of a “pogrom.” The Russian leader said ongoing mass demonstrations were unrelated to Ukraine’s recent decision to pull back from signing a series of landmark deals for closer economic integration with the EU. “This internal political process is an attempt by the opposition to destabilize the existing legitimate rule in the country,” Putin said during a visit to the former Soviet nation of Armenia. The remarks come amid growing public irritation among Kremlin officials over suggestions that Ukraine reversed course on its plans with the EU under pressure from Russia. On Monday evening, crowds at Kiev’s central Independence Square continued to swell as demonstrators reinforced barricades around the space that served as the focal point of the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the center of the city Sunday in a mainly peaceful rally, although there were ugly scenes of violence when police clashed with mobs seeking to storm the presidential administration building.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/1209817-echo/ (photo, video)

Russia Cancels Export Duties for Gas and Diamonds to Armenia

Russia and Armenia on Monday signed an intergovernmental agreement to cancel export duties for supplies of natural gas, oil products and diamonds to the South Caucasus nation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the deal with his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, during a high-level visit to the country. Armenia decided in September to join the Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. A roadmap on Yerevan’s admission is to be signed later in December. Sargsyan told journalists on Monday that his country would take the required steps to join the union as soon as possible, and Putin praised Armenia for its efforts. Reuters reported that some 500 people went out to the Armenian capital’s streets on Monday to protest the country’s plans to join the union. Gazeta.ru reported that more than 100 protesters were detained.


EU, Ukraine Agree to Continue Deal Talks

The presidents of Ukraine and the European Commission on Monday agreed to continue talks regarding association and free-trade deals that Ukraine recently said it would postpone. “The European Commission stands ready to discuss aspects of implementation related to the agreements already initialed, but not to reopen any kind of negotiations,” the European Commission said in a statement. Ukrainian President Yanukovych phoned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, asking him “to receive a delegation from Ukraine to have a discussion on some aspects of the association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free-trade area,” the statement reads.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Barricades Erected Overnight in Kiev after Weekend Clashes

Protesters in the Ukrainian capital erected barricades early Monday morning after a weekend of violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Tensions are simmering in the former Soviet nation amid increasingly vocal calls for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of a decision to back away from closer integration with Europe. According to reports from the scene, barricades made from Christmas trees, city benches, parts of metal fences and traffic barriers were erected in Kiev’s Independence Square, which served as the focal point of the Orange Revolution of 2004-5.


Protests Swell in Ukraine, Rioters Clash With Police

Police and protesters engaged in running street battles Sunday in front of Ukraine’s presidential administration in the capital as anger grows at a government decision to pull back from signing a deal for closer relations with the EU. Nearby in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them waving national flags, gathered in a separate peaceful demonstration on Independence Square. Discontent at the reversal over the conclusion of a series of EU deals that had been due to be signed last week is increasingly escalating into calls for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.


Ukraine Police Chief Apologizes for Violence

Ukraine's interior minister has apologized to Ukrainians over the police crackdown on pro-EU protesters in downtown Kiev but warned against mass disturbances, the UNIAN news agency said Sunday. “I want to apologize for the excessive use of force on the night of November 30 in Independence Square,” Vitaly Zakharchenko told session of the Interior Ministry Board Sunday. The minister warned thousands of protesters, starting a new rally in Kiev's Independence Square, the scene of violent crackdown on protesters Saturday, that police would respond.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

UK Court Orders Fugitive Kazakh Tycoon to Pay Out $400 mln to Kazakh Bank

London’s High Court ordered fugitive ex-banker Mukhtar Ablyazov to pay damages Tuesday amounting to approximately $400 million. Ablyazov formerly served as the chairman of BTA Bank, which is described in Tuesday’s judgment as a major Kazakh bank that effectively nationalized in February 2009. The bank has filed 11 separate sets of proceedings in England and Wales seeking to recover upwards of $5 billion – money that the bank claims was fraudulently misappropriated by Ablyazov when he was at the helm. Specifically, the bank alleges that acting in concert with various other members of the bank’s former leadership, Ablyazov misappropriated funds for his own benefit by use of a network of offshore companies. He was granted political asylum in Britain in 2011. However, according to the judgment – he has “remained a fugitive from justice since February 2012.” His whereabouts remained unknown until he was detained on July 31 near Cannes, France. Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine are all seeking his extradition.


Russian Police Detain Kidnappers in $8M Ransom Case

Three suspected kidnappers who demanded an $8 million ransom for a man they had abducted in Moscow have been detained and their hostage released, police said on Wednesday. The 45-year-old hostage was unemployed, so the kidnappers demanded his relatives sell their business and apartments in Moscow to raise the hefty ransom, the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. The man was abducted in southeastern Moscow on November 19, a police spokesman told RIA Novosti. He was held in a village house west of Moscow before being released in a special operation on Tuesday. "Three members of an ethnic criminal group, who held him, were detained on suspicion of committing this crime,” a police spokesman said, adding the group was of Georgian origin.


Russia Opens Criminal Case into Former Defense Minister

Russian investigators opened a criminal case Thursday into former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who is suspected of causing 56 million rubles ($1.7 million) worth of damage to the state. This is the first time that a criminal case has been opened against Serdyukov, who was fired by President Vladimir Putin a year ago amid allegations of high level corruption. During his tenure as minister, Serdyukov ordered his subordinates to use serving soldiers to build a road to an elite holiday resort in southern Russia, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Shooting in Moscow Metro Videorecorded

A shocking, seemingly unprovoked gun attack on the Moscow subway has left investigators baffled. The surveillance footage shows two young men sitting on a carriage on Moscow's subway line when the attention of one of them seems to be attracted by another passenger. A brief exchange follows before the other passenger appears on screen and the man stands up to confront him. In the blink of an eye, the man pulls out a gun and shoots the other passenger in the stomach, kicks him, and then shoots him in the head. As other surrounding passengers quickly move to the other end of the carriage, the shooter and his companion calmly wait for the train to pull up at the next station. The man accompanying the assailant also pulls out a pistol and seems to brandish it at the stricken passenger before he and his cohort disembark when the train pulls up at Nagornaya station. The footage ends with the victim examining his wounds as blood drips from his body onto the floor of the train. The wounded man has since been identified as Hashim Latipov, who originally hails from the North Caucasus Republic of Daghestan. Luckily, Latipov's wounds are not considered life-threatening as it transpires that the realistic-looking weapon used in the attack is a so-called "trauma gun," a type of air pistol that is popular in Russia and often used for self-defense purposes. Nonetheless, he has still had to undergo several operations and the shot to the head, which hit him in the upper jaw, will probably leave him scarred for life. In an interview Lapitov claimed he had no idea why the attack occurred. "We just locked eyes..." he said. "I turned away, but he kept looking. And it was such a contemptuous look. He looked like a psycho; like he wanted to kill someone. I was sitting there and I asked him 'What are you looking at?' He immediately exchanged a few words with his friend. When I approached them, he stood up, silently took out a gun, and started shooting. Although the faces of the attackers are clearly visible in the recording, police investigators have still not succeeded in identifying them. No motive has been ascribed to the attack, but Moscow is a city riven with racial tensions and unprovoked attacks on racial minorities, particularly economic migrants from the Caucasus region, are not uncommon.


Putin Praises Iran Nuclear Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday praised a last-minute agreement between Iran and the six international negotiators on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. “The agreement is a balanced list of measures and it will certainly have a positive influence on the development of the international situation, especially in the Middle Eastern region,” Putin said in a statement as quoted by the Kremlin. Iran and the P5+1 group (permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) clinched the deal Sunday morning following four days of talks, apparently resolving the decade-long dispute over the issue. A formal signing ceremony was held in the UN building in Geneva on Sunday involving representatives from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States, led by the coordinator for the group, European Commission foreign relations head Catherine Ashton. The core of the deal is a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program, in particular work on enrichment facilities, in exchange for a relaxation of the economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. In his statement, Putin called the deal “a breakthrough,” adding however that it was only the first step on a long road.


Kiev Police Use Tear Gas Against Pro-EU Integration Protesters

Ukraine’s riot police used tear gas and batons against pro-European integration protesters when some of them tried to break through a police cordon to the central entrance of the Cabinet’s building in downtown Kiev, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the site Sunday. Kiev police confirmed the use of tear gas but said they used it selectively against those protesters who also used tear gas or threw smoke bombs at them, Ukrainian media reported. Tens of thousands of demonstrators backing EU integration and a separate group of protesters against it assembled in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday in reaction to the government’s decision earlier this week to suspend landmark agreements with Brussels and turn to Russia instead. Police put the number of pro-EU protesters at about 22,000, the Unian news agency reported citing Kiev police. An opposition MP from the Fatherland parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Turchynov, said some 100,000 gathered on European Square.

http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1204096-echo/ (photo, video)

Ukraine Calls Off EU Deal

Ukraine’s government decided Thursday to call off the planned signing of landmark agreements with the EU that could have weakened the former Soviet nation’s bonds with Russia. The Cabinet said in a decree that the decision was motivated by the need to consolidate economic ties with Russia and members of the Kremlin-led Customs Union trade bloc. The stunning reversal will be greeted with dismay in the European Union, which had been hoping to steer Kiev toward closer economic integration with Europe. Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s parliament rejected draft laws aimed at allowing jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to seek medical treatment abroad, which EU officials had stipulated as a condition for the agreements to go ahead.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Putin to Examine Political Prisoners List, His Spokesman Denies Their Existence

Prominent Russian writer Boris Akunin refused to participate in a writers’ meeting that is supposed to be attended by President Vladimir Putin. Akunin said he does not want to be anywhere close to the president until there are political prisoners in Russia. Akunin mentioned jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, “Bolotnaya Square case” (a controversial criminal case instituted on mass riot charges) prisoner Sergey Krivov. In response Putin’s press-secretary Dmitry Peskov dismissed all accusations. “I do not understand, whom he means by ‘political prisoners.’ Those arrested in the ‘Bolotnaya case’? But they are not political prisoners; they are charged with hooliganism and violence against officers. This has nothing to do with politics,” Peskov said. He went on to comment on Akunin personally: “He is very well-known and respected writer. of course he has a right for his own opinion. But we also have a right to say his opinion has nothing to do with reality.” Later on a list of 70 political prisoners was passed to Vladimir Putin by opposition party RPR-Parnas leader Vladimir Ryzhkov. Putin publicly promised to “examine” the list.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bail Granted for Several Jailed Greenpeace Activists in Russia

wo district courts in St. Petersburg granted bail Tuesday to several more Greenpeace activists awaiting trial, signaling a possible softening in the authorities’ stance over the case. Nine activists, including nationals of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand and Poland, can leave their detention facilities after they have posted bail of 2 million rubles ($61,500) each, the courts ruled. A group of 28 Greenpeace activists and two reporters was initially charged with piracy for attempting in September to scale an Arctic Sea oil platform owned by an affiliate of energy giant Gazprom in protest at offshore drilling in the environmentally sensitive area. That charge was later downgraded to hooliganism, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of seven years in jail. Another three members of the group were granted bail Monday at another court in St. Petersburg. The environmental group said earlier in the day that it has already raised the funds to pay the bail. Greenpeace said in a statement that it was waiting for the Investigative Committee, which is handling the case, to provide details for a bank account into which the bail money can be transferred.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Greenpeace Detainees Complain of Language Barrier in Russian Jail

Greenpeace activists currently facing trial in Russia after mounting a protest at oil drilling in the Arctic Sea have few complaints about prison conditions but are being hampered by the language barrier, a state rights watchdog said Monday. Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the Kremlin rights council, visited two of the three detention facilities in the northern city of St. Petersburg in which the group of 28 activists and two journalists are being held. All 30 people were initially charged with piracy for attempting in September to scale an oil platform owned by an affiliate of state-run energy giant Gazprom, but those charges were later downgraded to hooliganism, an offense punishable by up to seven years in jail. Fedotov wrote on his official blog on the Kremlin website that pre-detention facilities he visited lack any English-language books and magazines. Inmates are of little help as most speak no English, and an official translator helps only during conversations with detention facility staff, Fedotov said.


Russia and Ukraine Reach 'Compromise' Gas Payment Deal

Russia and Ukraine have reached a compromise deal allowing Kiev to alter its payment schedule for Russian natural gas imports, Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky said Monday. The new agreement will allow Kiev to pay on time for energy deliveries, honoring its commitments to both Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom and European consumers, Stavytsky told reporters in Ukraine. Kiev and Moscow have been locked in a bitter dispute over gas supplies that has prompted fears of a return to the winters of 2006 and 2009, when Russia temporarily halted gas deliveries to Ukraine and some European countries. Last week Ukraine said it was suspending the purchase of gas from Russia, and relying on supplies from its own storage facilities. But it backtracked on the announcement within days.


Protesters Detained on Red Square

A few protesters were detained Sunday on downtown Moscow’s Red Square, according to reports from the Moscow department of the Russian Interior Ministry and media. The ministry said five people had been detained and taken to a police station for violating public order. Meanwhile, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper said eight people had been held. The newspaper said its correspondent made a few photos of the protest, whose participants unfolded three banners that read “My country has been seized by enemies,” “Resist” and “You can’t jail everyone.”


Thursday, November 14, 2013

McCartney Asks Putin to Release Greenpeace Activists

Veteran British musician Paul McCartney has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Greenpeace activists jailed after mounting an abortive protest against oil drilling in the Arctic Sea. Beatles founder McCartney asked Putin to reunite the 28 activists and the two journalists accompanying them with their families in a letter posted Thursday to his official website. “Vladimir, millions of people in dozens of countries would be hugely grateful if you were to intervene to bring about an end to this affair,” McCartney wrote in the letter, dated October 14.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ukraine Delays Tymoshenko Release Law, EU Deal Under Threat

Lawmakers in Ukraine on Wednesday again delayed consideration of measures to enable jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to travel abroad for medical treatment, possibly dashing prospects for a historic trade deal with the European Union. The draft law has undergone sustained debate in the ex-Soviet nation's unruly legislature, and its failure is likely to be blamed on pressure from Russia, which has sought to persuade Kiev to join its own Customs Union trade bloc instead of seeking closer ties with the EU. Tymoshenko, a prominent opposition leader, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power over a gas contract with Russia that was determined to be financially unfavorable for Ukraine. She insists that the charges were politically motivated. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last month that the EU would only be ready to sign a free-trade agreement with Ukraine at a summuit scheduled for late November only if a "suitable solution" was found for the Tymoshenko issue.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moscow Court Orders Seizure of Navalny's Assets

A court in Moscow on Tuesday ordered the seizure of bank accounts and assets belonging to opposition leader Alexei Navalny as part of an ongoing embezzlement case against him. Investigators formally charged the anti-corruption blogger and his brother Oleg with fraud in a case involving the local representative of cosmetics company Yves Rocher at the end of last month. Basmanny court press spokeswoman Natalya Romanova said a judge had ordered Monday that 50,000 rubles ($1,500) should be frozen, along with bank accounts amd company assets seized during the investigation. The value of the accounts and company assets was not disclosed. Authorities have said they believe the Navalny brothers embezzled around 26 million rubles ($790,000) from Yves Rocher Vostok and another 4 million rubles from the Multidisciplinary Processing Company. The brothers also face charges of laundering 21 million rubles.


Money Laundering Case Opened Against Former Bank of Moscow Execs

Russian investigators have opened a money laundering case against former Bank of Moscow president Andrei Borodin and his ex-first deputy, Dmitry Akulinin, the Interior Ministry said Monday. A fraud case had earlier been initiated against them. The Interior Ministry has said that Borodin and Akulinin from 2008 till 2011 organized the transfer of at least 50 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) from Bank of Moscow to accounts of affiliated commercial companies in Cyprus. Then they allegedly laundered the funds via affiliated non-resident companies registered in Cyprus. According to investigators, the former bankers conducted illegal financial transactions in excess of 623 million rubles ($19 million).


Ukraine Stops Buying Russian Gas

Ukraine has stopped buying gas from Russian energy giant Gazprom as of Saturday, Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency reported Monday, citing a Russian energy official. The head of Russia’s Central Dispatching Department of the Fuel and Energy Complex said Ukraine bought less gas than usual earlier this month before stopping gas purchases completely on November 9. Tensions between the countries are running high as Ukraine has repeatedly rejected Russia’s overtures to join a Moscow-led customs union and is due to sign a series of free-trade and association deals with the European Union – a step Russia has called “suicidal.”


European Court Questions Russia Over 2012 Rioting Case

The European Court of Human Rights has sent a number of questions to Russia over complaints lodged by seven Russians facing prosecution over their participation in anti-government protests last year. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky told RAPSI on Monday that Russia is obliged to answer the ECHR’s questions by January 17. The Strasbourg court has raised general and individual issues relating to the activists and their detention. In September, the ECHR gave priority status to the Russians’ appeals against the length of their detention and conditions while awaiting trial over a protest in Moscow on May 6 last year. The court also combined their appeals into one case. The seven suspects to appeal to the ECHR – Vladimir Akimenkov, Yaroslav Belousov, Leonid Kovyazin, Artyom Savyolov, Mikhail Kosenko, Andrei Barabanov and Nikolai Kavkazsky – are among the 12 people who are currently on trial over the Moscow protest rally held on the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a third presidential term. The rally on Bolotnaya Square ended in clashes between protesters and the police, which each side accuses the other of initiating. The rally’s participants and organizers have since been under criminal investigation in Russia over charges of violence against the police, and of taking part in and organizing riots.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Fugitive Russian Tycoon Captured in Cambodian Jungle

According to media reports, fugitive Russian businessman Sergey Polonsky was arrested in Cambodian jungle wearing only a beach towel.  His lawyer Alexander Karabanov has said he learnt about Polonsky’s arrest from a TV journalist on the scene and is expecting an official confirmation from the authorities. Last night, Cambodian police launched an operation to detain Polonsky after he had posted a video on Facebook showing a Cambodian official extorting $1 million from the businessman for not extraditing him to Russia, the lawyer said. Russia issued an international arrest warrant for Polonsky for defrauding investors of the Kutuzovskaya Mile housing project of 5.7 billion rubles. In Cambodia, Polonsky and two other Russian nationals are facing criminal charges for inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm to Cambodian sailors and taking them hostage. On New Year’s Eve in 2012, Polonsky and his friends, under the influence of alcohol, locked up the crew of a yacht in the hold and then forced the sailors to jump overboard. Last week, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office filed a formal request for Polonsky’s extradition. The Cambodian authorities confirmed their readiness to extradite him.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1195658-echo/ (video)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

900 Baseball Bats Seized From Moscow Drivers in 4 Days

Moscow traffic police officers seized 912 baseball bats from drivers during a special operation on the first four days of November, local media reported. Nearly 11,000 vehicles were stopped during the operation, which also turned up about 330 knives, 180 rubber-bullet handguns and several rifles, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported Tuesday. Sixteen drivers were found to be using fake licenses, the report said. Drivers’ rights advocates have cried foul over the reported seizures, arguing that there is no law against having baseball bats in one’s car.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

83,000 'Unlawful’ Website Blacklistings Reported in Russia

In the year since an Internet blacklist was activated by Russia’s communication watchdog Roskomnadzor, more than 83,000 websites have been blocked without appropriate legal justification, head of the ‘RosKomSvoboda” NGO Artyom Kozlyuk. The Internet-freedom NGO head says that the unlawful blocks made up 98% all of sites blacklisted since the registry’s activation. The cause for blocking resources that were not in violation of the law was their sharing of the same net addresses as the banned sites. The NGO reports that the blocking reached its peak in October : 320 IP addresses were added to the blacklist, which hosted 35.5 thousand domains. The deputy head of the telecommunications ministry earlier told Digit.ru that the law abiding owners of internet portals shouldn’t use shared IP addresses. “Buy your own IP address, and there’s no reason to worry. Or, if you decided to use a shared IP – check who your neighbors are,” Deputy Minister Aleksei Volin said. The blacklist was activated on November 1 2012. Since the activation, the telecom regulator has received more than 70,000 applications to block internet resources. More than half of those websites were implicated for allegedly giving out info about drugs, 30% - child porn resources, and 15% - websites promoting or providing information about suicide. After the applications were processed, more than 14,000 resources were blocked. Most of the web hosts complied with the regulator and deleted the information. The regulator reports that only 4% of the websites refused to delete the prohibited content. Currently, the blacklist contains approximately 3,400 resources.


US Seizes Ukraine Ex Prime Minister's $6m California Mansion

US authorities have confiscated the $6.75 million California mansion of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko in connection with his money laundering conviction nearly a decade ago and have also sanctioned the seizure of a Pablo Picasso lithograph that he is believed to own. The sprawling 20-room home in the city of Novato, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of San Francisco, was formally handed over to the United States last month in an Oct. 8 order issued by Judge Charles Breyer of the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The mansion, where comedian Eddie Murphy reportedly once resided while filming a movie nearby, was seized as part of the US government’s efforts to recover $22.8 million from Lazarenko based on his 2004 conviction by a federal jury in San Francisco on charges of extortion, fraud and money laundering. The seizure comes as Lazarenko, who served as Ukraine’s prime minister from May 1996 to July 1997, faces possible deportation from the United States following his release from federal prison last November after serving out a nine-year sentence.


US Aquarium Fights for Russian Belugas in Court

A US aquarium denied permission to import 18 Russian Beluga whales has launched a legal battle to overturn the decision by US federal authorities, an environmental policy website reported this week. In August, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rejected the aquarium’s application to import the whales, citing concerns that five of the animals may have been nursing when they were captured in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011. The whales are currently stranded in limbo at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia and have become something of a cause célèbre among US environmental activists. Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger in August wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to release the whales from captivity and return them to her ocean home.


Drunk US Lawyer Barred from Russian Flight

A Belarusian-born lawyer from the United States has been barred from a flight in Russia’s Urals for “having an untidy look and being drunk,” regional transport police said on Tuesday. The 44-year-old US passport holder tried to take a Moscow-bound flight in the Urals city of Perm on Sunday, but the airline refused to let him on board. The man, who came to Perm to meet a client, was taken to the airport’s transport police station instead. The lawyer, whose identity was withheld, now faces a fine of 100-500 rubles ($3-$15) or up to 15 days of administrative arrest.


Moscow Police Seize 100 Kilos of Heroin

Moscow police have seized about 100 kilograms of heroin during a special operation, the head of Russia’s drug control agency said Tuesday. “The operation is ongoing. It’s still too early to speak about its final results,” Viktor Ivanov, currently on a visit to Lithuania, told RIA Novosti. Some 30,000 Russians die from heroin use every year, according to official statistics.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Two Killed in Grenade Blast in Russian Court

Russia’s Interior Ministry said at least two people were killed Friday by a grenade blast in a magistrate’s court in the central city of Kurgan. Police said that a man detonated a grenade, killing himself and one other person. Two others were injured by the blast. Investigators have reached the site of the explosion. A law enforcement source told RIA Novosti that the suspected attacker was motivated by unhappiness at an unfavorable verdict. The source said the attacker had tried to enter a courtroom, but detonated a grenade while he was being searched by a guard.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

US Blacklists Russian Singer for Alleged Criminal Ties

The US Department of the Treasury on Wednesday blacklisted three Russians for ties with an international criminal group, US Treasury spokesman John Sullivan said. The department said in a statement earlier in the day that it had “designated six individuals and four entities linked to the Brothers’ Circle, a Eurasian crime syndicate, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).” Three of the six individuals have Russian citizenship, one is a national of former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan and one is an Israeli passport holder. The citizenship of the sixth person was not disclosed. The list mentions Grigory Lepsveridze, also known as Grigory Leps, whose personal data, such as the full name, date and place of birth coincides with that of a Russian singer-songwriter of Georgian origin. Sullivan confirmed that the person on the list was indeed “a singer.” However, RIA Novosti was unable to obtain an official confirmation from Lepsveridze or his authorized representatives at the time of the publication. Lepsveridze was put on the list for couriering money on behalf of Vladislav Leontyev, blacklisted under the same executive order last year for being “a key member of the Brothers’ Circle and has been involved in various criminal activities, including narcotics trafficking.” According to information provided by the US Treasury Department, The Brothers’ Circle is one of five TCOs sanctioned by the US, along with the Camorra, the Yakuza, Los Zetas, and MS-13.


Prosecutors Crack Down on Skolkovo President

The president of the Skolkovo Foundation, Russia's high-tech development center, had a personal stake in issuing unfounded research and developments grants, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced on Wednesday. The prosecutors claim that 17 grants totaling 3.6 billion rubles ($112 million) were issued without the requisite evaluation, and that three members of the grant committee, including the fund’s president, had a personal stake in the matter. In addition, The Prosecutor General's office reports a possible misuse of up to 125 billion rubles ($4 billion) of budget funds, and that the construction of the fund's facilities was conducted without proper licenses and papers confirming property rights. The Prosecutor General’s Office issued a warning, calling upon the fund to compensate the damages and to determine the party responsible. The Skolkovo Foundation, set up in 2010 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, is the primary agency for the Skolkovo high-tech development hub, which includes a business center, a science and technology institute, and a management school. The project is intended to showcase the drive to diversify and modernize the Russian economy. Billionaire Renova Group president Viktor Vekselberg is the foundation's president and head of the Skolkovo Fund.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Navalny Faces New Charges

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is facing fresh charges of embezzlement over an alleged scheme to defraud a local branch of cosmetics manufacturer Yves Rocher, investigators said Tuesday. The Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny and his brother, Oleg, swindled Yves Rocher out of 26 million rubles ($812,000) and laundered 21 million rubles. The prospect of further legal troubles for the outspoken Kremlin critic follows a mild reprieve in mid-October when a court in the city of Kirov revoked a prison term for separate fraud charges, instead imposing a suspended sentence. Moscow City Court earlier this month turned down a motion by the Navalny brothers to dismiss the case against them. The Investigative Committee had in December 2012 accused the Navalnys of embezzling over 55 million rubles from a trading company that was subsequently revealed to be the Russian operation of French cosmetic giant Yves Rocher. Oleg Navalny is accused of using his senior position with Russia's Postal Service to manipulate Yves Rocher into entering into a contractual agreement for cargo mail transportation with a private mailing service in which Alexei Navalny was registered as founder.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Russia Jumps Up 20 Spots in ‘Doing Business’ Rankings

Russia's business climate has made notable strides over the past year, climbing up 20 positions in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings from 112th place. The World Bank Group's Doing Business 2014 report, which was launched in Thailand on Tuesday, presents business data for 189 economies and includes information from Libya, Myanmar and South Sudan for the first time. The authors of the report said Russia was third among 10 countries that showed the best results in liberalizing their economies last year, trailing Ukraine and Rwanda. In comparison, Russia climbed only eight spots in rankings in 2012, from 120th to 112th.


Russian Ballet Star Pleads Not Guilty to Bolshoi Acid Attack

Bolshoi Ballet star soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko pleaded not guilty to masterminding an acid attack on the theater’s ballet artistic director, RAPSI legal news agency reported from the Moscow courtroom where the trial opened Tuesday. Sergei Filin, 42, suffered third-degree burns to his face and eyes on January 17 when a masked assailant threw concentrated acid in his face outside his apartment building in Moscow. Dmitrichenko, 29, has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested in March, when police said he had confessed to organizing the attack but claimed he did not know that the perpetrator planned to use acid. The assault was reportedly motivated by Dmitrichenko's desire to avenge his girlfriend, a fellow dancer who had been passed over by Filin for key roles in the Bolshoi's productions.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Putin: No Customs Union with Ukraine in Case of EU Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that it would be impossible for Ukraine to join a Moscow-led Customs Union if the country signs an association agreement with the European Union. “It will be impossible since such association stipulates the creation of a free-trade zone between the European Union and Ukraine,” Putin said at a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Minsk. However, he noted that Russia is neither for nor against Ukraine’s drive to join the European Union.


Russia Cancels Handgun Order after Navalny Expose

Russia has canceled an order for Austrian-manufactured Glock pistols placed by the Defense Ministry after the prices were found to be inflated. The Federal Defense Contracts Service said Friday that the procurement process is to be investigated. A preliminary probe revealed that the Defense Ministry’s procurement agency inflated the initial contract price in a notice on its website earlier in October, a contracts service spokesman told RIA Novosti. He said that other defense, security and law enforcement agencies could buy the same guns at a quarter of the price. The procurement agency said it would pay up 210,000 rubles ($6,600) for Glock 17 handguns and 191,000 rubles for Glock 26 models. This sum covers a full set, including barrels and silencers not mentioned in the order, the spokesman said. The order was canceled after a post in the blog of prominent opposition leader Alexey Navalny who pointed out the the retail price of the guns is around 50,000 rubles and surmised the price had been corruptly inflated.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

FAS Russia Considers Amendments to Antimonopoly Laws

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS Russia) is discussing amendments to the current antimonopoly laws (the so-called “third antimonopoly package”) as suggested by authorities and businesses. In particular, the draft amendments would eliminate the requirement to file multiple annual notifications with the FAS, require the FAS to send a warning prior to opening an investigation, provide for publication of rules for issuing determinations by the FAS, prohibit the formation of state and municipal enterprises in competitive markets, detail the procedures for applying antimonopoly laws to actions and agreements concerning the use of intellectual property rights, enable the use of joint operating agreements, and provide that entities with less than 35% market share could not be recognized as having a "dominant position" in the market.  Discussion and review of the amendments remains on-going, with the hope that their adoption will reduce administrative burdens on the FAS and facilitate development of competition in Russia.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Russian FSB To Increase Control of Internet

Russia’s Communications Ministry, in cooperation with security services, is finalizing a directive obliging internet providers to record private internet communications. However, unwilling to bear unanticipated expenses, internet providers are citing constitutional freedoms. According to Kommersant daily, the new directive has been in development for over six months, in close cooperation with the Federal Security Service (FSB). The major innovation of the new directive is that it would require internet providers to record constantly the last 12 hours or more of traffic coming through their servers, starting from July 1, 2014. This would allow the FSB secret service to control phone numbers, IPs, register entries, e-mails of social networks users etc.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bus Bomb Kills 6 in Russia

Six people were killed and 37 injured - some of them critically - after a female suicide bomber set off a bomb on a bus in Volgograd, central Russia. Local authorities have been put on high terror alert for the next 15 days. “Today at 2:05pm Moscow time [10:05 GMT] in Volgograd inside a bus, as a result of an unknown explosive device going off, a blast happened, leading to casualties,” a national Anti-terrorist Committee representative said in the statement. Forty passengers were on the bus. At least eight of them are in critical condition. A 20-month-old toddler is among those injured. His state is assessed as moderately severe. Russia’s Health Ministry indicated that most of the victims in the explosion sustained mine explosive-type wounds, caused by the bus’s paneling and the shattered glass. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the Emergencies Ministry and the Ministry of Health to provide all the necessary help to the victims of the blast. An Emergencies Ministry plane has already brought four injured to Moscow for treatment. A three-day mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack has been declared in Volgograd Oblast.

http://rt.com/news/volgograd-bus-explosion-dead-486/ (video)

Netherlands Sue Russia over Greenpeace Ship Seizure

The Netherlands on Monday filed a lawsuit in an international maritime court against Russia’s seizure of a Dutch-registered Greenpeace icebreaker. The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will begin reviewing the case in the coming two or three weeks, the Netherlands government said on its website. Amsterdam says it is willing to suspend the lawsuit if the Greenpeace ship and crew are released. The Netherlands had earlier announced it was initiating arbitration proceedings under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in the hope of prompting a diplomatic solution. Russian authorities seized the Greenpeace ship in mid-September after activists tried to scale an oil rig in the Arctic in protest against offshore drilling in the area. All 30 people on board were detained and later charged with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.


Russia refuses to take part in Hamburg litigation

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Navalny Gets Suspended Sentence

A court in Russia offered outspoken opposition leader Alexei Navalny a reprieve Wednesday by granting him a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges. The decision by Kirov Region Court marks a softening of the five-year prison term ordered in July, but will leave Navalny open to arrest should he engage in the defiant political activity that has become his trademark. Navalny will also be prevented from running for office for the foreseeable future. In a blog post after the sentence, Navalny conceded he would not be able to stand for election, but stressed his continued commitment to playing an active political role.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1178232-echo/ (video)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

3 Facing Charges Over Moscow Anti-Migrant Clashes

Authorities in Moscow have detained at least three people suspected of involvement in anti-migrant riots that targeted a vegetable warehouse in the city’s south over the weekend, police said Tuesday. Deputy city police chief Oleg Baranov said at a City Hall meeting that police are holding two Moscow residents and one person from the surrounding region. He gave no information about what role the individuals may have had in the unrest, which injured dozens, including six police officers. Hundreds of people were detained by police overnight Sunday and on Monday in response to the violence that erupted after protests over the fatal stabbing of a 25-year-old man on Saturday spiraled out of control. The killer, who police identified Tuesday as being from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, remains at large. Police said Tuesday morning that around 70 people are facing minor administrative charges over the clashes in the neighborhood of Biryulyovo. RIA Novosti’s Rapsi legal news agency cited a local court as saying 23 people have been ordered to pay fines ranging from 500 rubles ($15) to 3,000 rubles ($93).


1,200 Migrants Arrested in Response to Moscow Anti-Migrant Riots

Moscow police rounded up and arrested more than a thousand migrant workers at a vegetable warehouse on Monday morning, hours after hundreds of ultranationalists clashed with riot police. The rioters had overturned cars and raided a shopping centre used by migrants after the murder of an ethnic Russian was blamed on a man from the Caucasus. Police arrested more than 1,200 people in what was called a "pre-emptive raid" on the warehouse where the rioters believed the killer worked, Russian news agencies reported. Sunday's rioting in the southern Biryulyovo district of Moscow, which escalated after hundreds gathered where Egor Shcherbakov, 25, was murdered last week, marked the capital's worst nationalist unrest in three years.


Anti-Migrant Riots in Moscow, Hundreds Arrested

Moscow police detained some 380 people during the mass rioting in a southern district of the city. A mixed crowd of nationalists and locals attacked a warehouse run by natives of the Caucasus, blaming a migrant for the fatal stabbing of a local. Authorities lifted the emergency plan codenamed “Volcano” after midnight, several hours after public order had been restored. The plan, put into effect in the afternoon, involved sending scores of riot police to the scene of the clashes, and placing police officers across the city on high alert. By midnight the streets were practically deserted, except for police officers and a couple of bystanders discussing the day’s events. Meanwhile the 380 detained during the unrest were being interrogated in a criminal case over hooliganism – thus far as witnesses, police said. A crowd of people on Sunday broke into a vegetable warehouse in the southern district of Biryulyovo, hurling rocks, smashing up stalls and vending machines. While the police estimated the crowd at about 350 people, witnesses at the scene suggested the number of rioters could be as many as 1,000.

http://rt.com/news/moscow-nationalists-killing-violence-142/ (video)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Observers Find Violations at 'All Stages' of Azerbaijan Elections

International observers have criticized “serious” and “overwhelming” violations during Wednesday presidential elections in oil-rich Azerbaijan that resulted in a landslide win for autocratic incumbent Ilham Aliyev. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe identified voter intimidation, a restrictive media environment during the election campaign and violations at all stages of the voting process in a preliminary report on the elections released Thursday. The former Soviet nation’s Central Elections Commission gave Aliyev, 51, who succeeded his father as leader of Azerbaijan in 2003, almost 85 percent of the vote in preliminary results. His closest rival, opposition candidate and prominent academic Camil Hasanli, managed just 5.18 percent. “Significant problems were observed throughout all stages of election day processes,” the OSCE report said. “Counting was assessed in overwhelmingly negative terms, with 58 percent of observed polling stations assessed as bad or very bad, indicating serious problems.” The OSCE also criticized the lack of a level playing field for the 10 officially registered candidates, noting “the restrictive legal framework and disproportionate coverage of the incumbent President.”


Russian Supreme Economic Court Judges Massively Resign

At least seven, but possibly up to 23, of 53 judges of Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court (VAS) submitted resignation letters, according to media reports. The VAS press office confirmed that seven judges resigned. Other sources say there are 10 or 23 of such resignation letters. Apparently this is a reaction to the bill submitted to the State Duma by Vladimir Putin, according to which the VAS should be dissolved and merged with the Supreme Court. Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh Court is the last instance court of the Russian economic court system. Many analysts are highly critical about the proposed reform.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Russian Highest Economic Court to Be Dissolved

Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted to the State Duma a bill to radically reform the Russian judicial system. According to the bill, the Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court will be dissolved. The functions of both the Supreme Arbitrazh Court and the Supreme Court (currently being the highest court of general jurisdiction) will be transferred to the new Supreme Court. To implement the reform, changes must be made to the Constitution. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the reform will be completed. Surprisingly, no details of the reform are found in the bill. Apparently, specific features of the future court system are to be determined later. No meaningful public discussion of the reform, that was proposed by Putin last June, has ever taken place. Many analysts are highly critical about the reform. Unlike the system of general jurisdiction courts, the system of arbitrazh (economic) courts headed by Anton Ivanov transformed during the last decade into a reasonably efficient and high-quality system of resolving commercial disputes. This accumulated efficiency is very likely to be lost in transition, critics say. According to rumors, the major purpose of the reform is to create a job for current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who may become the head of the unified Supreme Court.


Anti-Putin Protester Sent to Psych Ward

A RUSSIAN court ordered that an activist be sent to a mental hospital after convicting him for protesting against President Vladimir Putin. In its verdict, the Moscow court found activist Mikhail Kosenko, who suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia, guilty of participating in an anti-Putin mass protest and using violence against police. The judge however ruled that due to his illness, Kosenko, 38, was mentally incompetent and must be admitted to a high-security psychiatric facility indefinitely. "The court ruled that Kosenko undergo compulsory medical treatment," his lawyer Valery Shukhardin said. Diagnosed with "sluggish schizophrenia" - a term for mild mental illness used in Russia - Kosenko had been treated on an outpatient basis before his pre-trial detention. His defence insists that he should not be hospitalised and continue treatment as an outpatient.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Russia Protests "Attack" on Diplomat in Netherlands

The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a note of protest to the Dutch government after an alleged attack on a member of the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Monday. "During the past weekend, armed men in camouflage broke into the apartment of Minister-Counselor, Dmitry Borodin. Using a false pretext of the alleged ill-treatment of children, they severely beat him in front of his children,” Lukashevich said. He also said that the assault was carried out after Borodin informed the masked men about his diplomatic status. The diplomatic residence is protected by immunity, the spokesman said. The diplomat was then taken into custody by law enforcement where he spent the night and was then released “without explanation or apology ." "This case is not only a gross violation of the rules and regulations of international communication, but also the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” Lukashevish added.